Net neutrality is a slogan for the proposition that the internet should be open and available to everyone on the same terms. When a person requests information from online companies such as Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon it must first travel through their internet service provider (ISP). Companies like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T act like a sorting facility or middleman between the user and material they are requesting. They have been consistently trying to regulate the priority of this data being streamed to consumers. These cable companies want to charge content providers by creating slow and fast lanes to reach end users, effectively setting up toll booths on the internet. Allowing such limitations would impose stricter regulations on content providers. This could also corner consumers into choosing a specific company over another, because of its reliability. “This is no more a plan to regulate the internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech,” says FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler (Rose, Joel. “FCC Approves”). The FCC says they will not regulate rates, tariff, or implement traditional types of utility regulation on consumers. (DiChristopher, Tom. “Wheeler: Obama”) Promoting the benefits of net neutrality will help preserve the open internet by creating awareness, encouraging others who support online equality, and educating people about how companies attempt to control the internet.
Many organizations create a viral awareness around net neutrality. The nonprofit organization, Fight for the Future, continually makes efforts to preserve the open internet. They are a nonprofit advocacy group founded in 2011, promoting causes related to copyright legislation as well as online privacy and censorship. Their goal is to build a grassroots movement to ensure that everyone can access the internet’s many resources affordably, free of interference or censorship, and with full privacy. They have organized millions of people to help support net neutrality by sending up-to-date regulation information via e-mailing lists, posting web banners for other webmasters to use freely on their own websites, and even display statistics from the users of other pro-net-neutrality websites to Congress (“Fight for the Future”). This organization also helps bring political awareness to the public by displaying a “Political scoreboard” of elected officials and their position on net neutrality in every state (“In Days, the Most Important”). Educating people in such a sensitive area could possibly impact the campaigns of elected officials. This is especially true when the organization offers pre-written petitions for citizens to send to Congress, including their contact numbers.
Another influential organization that helps create awareness around net neutrality is Demand Progress. They work to win progressive policy changes for ordinary people through organizing and grassroots lobbying, with a focus on issues of civil liberties and government reform. Just like Fight for the Future, they also run online campaigns to rally people to take action by contacting Congress and other leaders. As a public advocate located in Washington DC, they use funding pressure tactics and spread news of backroom decisions that affect citizen’s lives (DemandProgress.org). It is no secret that these two organizations have a common goal. They partnered with Fight for the Future and Free Press and flew a beach-style plane banner around the Comcast Headquarters in Philadelphia. It reads, “Comcast: Don’t mess with the internet #SorryNotSorry #NetNeutrality” (McQuade, Dan. “Protesters Flying”). They were celebrating their influential efforts the day before the FCC ruling. These passionate organizations have been fueled by the support of the public. This gives our leaders added incentive to support net neutrality.
For that reason, encouraging leaders and other supporters about the importance of online equality will help defend the open internet. Many people reached out to representatives and leaders in the United States voicing their opinion about net neutrality. The FCC received comments from more than 4 million people across the country, most of which were overwhelmingly in support of a free and fair internet. On February 26, 2015, the FCC voted to implement new net neutrality rules designed to make sure cable companies treat all legal content equally (Yu, Roger, and Mike Snider. “FCC Approves”). This is a historic victory for free speech. It prohibits ISPs like Comcast from slowing down content providers for the sake of profit. They cannot block anyone from visiting a website or slow down access to any website. This means that the data from all websites visited will be provided as quickly as the websites Comcast wants the public viewing. Under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, the broadband internet has been reclassified as a telecommunications service (Wheeler, Chairman, 34). The FCC will have more of a mandate towards rules and regulations that would stop cable companies from picking winners and losers among content providers. Net neutrality is also crucial for small business owners, startups, and entrepreneurs who rely on the open internet to do business and connect with customers. Without net neutrality, ISPs could have the ability to seize every possible opportunity to profit from being the sole gatekeeper of the internet.
President Barack Obama has a very similar position in support of net neutrality. Before being elected President, he pledged to support net neutrality and protect a free and open internet in October 2007. Several months before the FCC voted to preserve net neutrality, the President released a statement on the issue; “I believe the FCC should create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality and ensuring that neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online.” The rules that he suggested were: No blocking of legal content, no throttling to intentionally slow down specific content over others, increased transparency between the ISP and the rest of the internet, and no paid prioritization because a service does not pay a fee (Obama, Barack, President). The President believes that the internet is essential to the American economy and realizes how dependent citizens are with this technology in their daily lives. A study shows that 87.7% of the North American population used the internet in June 2014 (“World Internet Users”). That’s the largest percentage of internet users by geographic region in the world.
Google is the strongest pro-net neutrality organization that comes close to having sufficient influence in Washington against the anti-net neutrality organizations. Because of its interests being far more diversified, it is tougher to gauge how much of Google’s influence is focused on net neutrality. It may not be clear if Google has a friend in the White House, but they spend the most on lobbying – $16.8 million in 2014 (Shatz, Amy. “One Million”). This is far behind what anti-net neutrality organizations have contributed, but they are not alone in the fight for an open internet. Microsoft is the third most popular investment for members of Congress, with fifty-nine members owning shares. Microsoft doesn’t have as strong of a presence in Washington as Google does, but they are still well represented. They have ninety-eight lobbyists, including seventy-nine veterans and one former lawmaker (Choma, Russ. “Net Neutrality”). This puts Microsoft as the second strongest supporter of net neutrality. Another company that supports net neutrality, but may not have as much political strength as Google and Microsoft, is Netflix. The video streaming company is responsible for over 30% of all US internet traffic. This is more than any other content provider, including Google’s YouTube (Williams, Owen. “Netflix”). The spokeswoman Anne Marie Squeo from Netflix said, “Netflix supports the FCC’s action last week to adopt Title II in ensuring consumers get the internet they paid for without interference by ISPs. There has been zero change in our very well-documented position in support of strong net neutrality rules” (Snider, Mike. “Netflix”). The FCC passed the strongest net neutrality protections the public has ever seen. Now the open internet must be defended from the cable company allies in Congress. They are already writing legislation to overturn the new rule (Welch, Chris. “Obama”). The constant battle could have a sizable impact in the 2016 presidential elections.
Therefore, it is important to educate people about how cable companies are attempting to control the internet. The most powerful anti-net neutrality organizations are Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T as well as the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) (Choma, Russ. “Net Neutrality”). The influence these companies have over consumers is well known in the United States and around the world. They spend massive amounts of money in Washington. In 2013, broadband providers spent over $93 million in lobbying; over $42 million in 2014 (Shatz, Amy. “One Million”). One of the most influential companies against net neutrality and a majority contributor in lobby spending is Comcast. If merged with Time Warner Cable, they would control nearly 40% of the US market for broadband internet service (“Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger”). Without the protection of net neutrality rules, the combined entity could easily monopolize internet traffic to the highest bidder. This could mean slower load times for content providers (like Netflix) that refuse to pay extra fees. After net neutrality rules passed in the FCC another large lobby contributor, AT&T, hints at litigation in the future. They argue that animosity, exaggeration, demonization, and fear-mongering are not a basis on which to make wise national policies (Cicconi, Jim. “Thoughts”). This shows a clear disinterest with the new net neutrality regulations. Verizon released its statement against net neutrality in Morse code to poke fun at what they called antiquated regulations that were originally designed for a telephone monopoly (Rose, Joel. “FCC Approves”). There are tremendous lobbying dollars at stake; not only would it be effortless for net neutrality supporters to get anything through Congress, there’s a better chance that anything that did get through would be ignored. This would stifle consumer’s voices and could limit the options that are abundant today.
Without some clear rules of the road, large corporations can carve up the internet into slow and fast lanes, charging a toll for content and blocking innovators from entering the information superhighway. Innovation is not effortless and great achievements come with a cost. Large cable companies could impose the cost of uncertain innovation on its customers, using them to fund their experiments in technology. This violation could limit the founding of new businesses and prevent smaller businesses from competing in the internet market. If net neutrality regulations are revoked, the balance of internet control will tip even further in favor of the large telecom companies. This could shut out the public entirely. Even under the Title II classification, these broadband companies are actually receiving some benefits. They have not voiced out that they receive tax breaks, subsidies, and rights of way for installing their cable lines since being classified as a utility company (Masnick, Mike. “Everything”). When looking at net neutrality from this perspective, everybody benefits. American consumers can continue receiving the benefits of evolved technology without being limited or cornered into choosing one service over the other. Protecting the internet to remain free and open will allow the growth of innovators to flourish in our society.
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